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Approaches to tuning

Mack

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I have a vintage soprano which has the usual tuning eccentricities you would expect of a horn that age. With the mouthpiece at the right position for a pitch perfect low A, the high B is about a semitone sharp. I want to persist with the horn because the tone is gorgeous. But before I start training my embouchure to iron out the difficulty - why not pull the mouthpiece back a little and flatten the high notes and instead work on sharpening the lower notes? How do you decide where your starting point is? I don't want to embark on months of training my lip muscles and oral cavity etc only to be told I should have started from a different point!

And any good tips for achieving better tuning for individual notes on the horn apart from just playing, such as mouthpiece exercises etc? Thanks.
 

Colin the Bear

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It's easier to pull down the top than push up the bottom in my experience. I find the soprano rather like a swanee whistle at the top. I find it easier to stay in tune when playing than doing exercises and scales. It's a frustrating instrument to master.
 

jbtsax

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From your description, what you are experiencing is called "spread octaves" where the interval is too wide or greater than the 2 : 1 ratio of a pure octave.

Acousticians who study woodwinds have reported that stiffer reeds have a tendency to play sharp in the higher register. My experience as a player and teacher has taught me that playing too high on the mouthpiece input pitch produces the same effect. The "Santy Runyon" mouthpiece pitch for soprano sax is a C concert, the same as for Bb soprano clarinet. Ernest Ferron in his book "The Saxophone Is My Voice" points out that on a conical instrument making the small end larger or making the large end smaller makes the octaves increasingly wider. Once this effect transforms the cone into a cylinder the instrument overblows an octave and a 5th or a 12th instead of an octave.

Curt Altarac (Music Medic) has done some interesting experiments to bring down the pitch of a sharp 2nd octave by putting a lining inside the neck to increase the degree of conicity. Another tech by the name of Mark Aronson removes a calculated amount of metal by cutting along the length of the mouthpiece end of a neck and then brazes the opening back together making a smaller diameter. I had him do a True Tone alto neck for me, and it helped the intonation a lot.

Something you might try is to compare the B octaves by overblowing and not using the octave key with playing octaves with the octave key. That will tell you how much the octave vent "compromise" is effecting the sharpness. Checking the low B overblown to its 2nd octave and comparing that to the first finger B will give a good idea of the accuracy of the length of the saxophone, ie. the placement of the mouthpiece on the cork.

Another thought to consider is finding a mouthpiece with a smaller chamber that does not need to go so far onto the cork to play up to pitch. You could even experiment by placing some Blu Tack or similar material inside your mouthpiece to gauge the effect of reducing the volume.

Sax acoustics is a favorite subject of mine, if you can't tell. These are just a few random thoughts off the top of my head. Please let us know if you find a workable solution. It would be nice to know the brand of your "vintage sax" as well.
 
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kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Really interesting reply from JBTsax. And there's another current thread on this somewhere. Maybe I'll try some modelling clay in the mouthpiece, not sure.

I can never remember which way round it is - is it overall length for high notes and mouthpiece volume for low notes, or vice versa?

I spent most of my last lesson trying to sort out mouthpiece position on my modern sop. Same problem as you - when the bottome end was right the higher notes just got sharper and sharper. Pulling the mouthpiece out and lipping up the lower notes helped, but the lip up tended to make them jump an octave. Compromised by Pushing the mouthpiece on just enough to bring the lower notes into line with a little lipping up, and loosening off at the top. Intonation was then really good, but tone at the top end suffered a touch as the reed doesn't get quite enough support. Adjustment was in 1mm increments, then fine tuning by about half a mill - it's really that sensitive. Guess I'm just repeating what Colin's said. Mouthpiece is a long way up the neck.
 

Jamesmac

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,872
I have a vintage soprano which has the usual tuning eccentricities you would expect of a horn that age. With the mouthpiece at the right position for a pitch perfect low A, the high B is about a semitone sharp. I want to persist with the horn because the tone is gorgeous. But before I start training my embouchure to iron out the difficulty - why not pull the mouthpiece back a little and flatten the high notes and instead work on sharpening the lower notes? How do you decide where your starting point is? I don't want to embark on months of training my lip muscles and oral cavity etc only to be told I should have started from a different point!

And any good tips for achieving better tuning for individual notes on the horn apart from just playing, such as mouthpiece exercises etc? Thanks.




I had a Mexican Nogales Conn Alto that had the same problem, but perhaps not as as extreme. I was very disappointed because I loved the noise it used to make. But if I think back I think part of the problem was me trying to play an Alto like a clarinet. IMO I would experiment with MPs and see if that helps the tuning problem. I use an Ed Pillinger that I picked out at his place, with an S880 Yanagisawa, a slightly softer reed than I would with Alto, and have no problems with tuning. Some notes I am more aware of tuning wise, middle D and top E to F# but it's an automatic adjustment.
It's a pain if you love the sound, but the tuning is off. But is it worth the trouble, perhaps better to find another horn.
 

Morgan Fry

Senior Member
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447
Locality
Leeds
I can never remember which way round it is - is it overall length for high notes and mouthpiece volume for low notes,

Caveats about rules of thumb aside, it's this.


Mack, on a vintage instrument in good condition with a modern mouthpiece you would expect to have the opposite problem to the one you're having (vintage instruments almost always being designed for larger chambered mouthpieces than current ones). There's a very good chance this is a chops issue rather than a gear issue.

So where to put the mouthpiece to start? Pull it out -- all the way out! Do 5 minutes every day on the mouthpiece alone before you play anything else. Play long notes and scale exercises. Do it until you can reliably play them over at least a full octave (a 10th, really). Until you can do this, it doesn't matter where you put the mouthpiece on the horn. Once you can do this, you won't need to ask.

The thing about soprano is that it is so flexible that it almost doesn't matter how good the acoustic match is between instrument and mouthpiece. Even when they are perfect you still have to voice it very correctly to play anywhere near in tune.
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
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Curt Altarac (Music Medic) has done some interesting experiments to bring down the pitch of a sharp 2nd octave by putting a lining inside the neck to increase the degree of conicity. Another tech by the name of Mark Aronson removes a calculated amount of metal by cutting along the length of the mouthpiece end of a neck and then brazes the opening back together making a smaller diameter. I had him do a True Tone alto neck for me, and it helped the intonation a lot.

Could you please point me to the right direction to find out more about this?
 

jbtsax

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Could you please point me to the right direction to find out more about this?

Sure. Beginning with the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of the Saxophone Journal, Curt Altarac has been writing articles on saxophone repair and modification. Most of his articles so far have had to do with intonation. You can order individual back copies as well as get a subscription. I don't know what the costs to the UK would be. All of his articles are excellent.

A good entry level book to saxophone acoustics is "The Saxophone Is My Voice" by Ernest Ferron. There is a bit of inaccurate information in some of the chapters, but there is enough correct stuff to chew on for quite a while. When you graduate from there to Benade's "Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics" and Neverdeen's "Acoustical Aspects of Woodwind Instruments" both of which I am still wading through, you will begin to learn what Ferron gets wrong. Nederveen can be very daunting for those of us without a strong mathematics background. You can still get quite a bit out of his work by "reading between the math".
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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+ for JBTsax' book suggestions.

The Ferron book can be hard to find, but Musicmedic (Curt Altarac....) stocks it.
 

Pete Thomas

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And any good tips for achieving better tuning for individual notes on the horn apart from just playing, such as mouthpiece exercises etc? Thanks.

You've had lots of good tips.

One thing I would try is to see if your overtones are in tune, B is a good not to try this on.


Finger a low B (B1) make it sound up an octave (B2) the finger an play the regular B2 and see if these two B2 notes are reasonably in tune.

This is a way to tell when the mouthpiece is at the correct position so the instrument is "in tune with itself". When this is the case, then the octaves should be in tune, not sharp at the top.

However once you find this position, and the instrument is in tune with itself, if it is overall sharp or flat then you can start working out how to fix your embouchure. If it is overall sharp, then you need to relax, if flat then perhaps you are too relaxed in your embouchure.

The complication of course as has been mentioned is when there is a horn/mouthpiece mismatch.
 

gregerhillman

Member
Messages
52
Locality
Sweden
Another consideration would be that the distance between the keys and tone holes needs adjustment. You shouldn't attempt this yourself, but let a sax tech take a look at it and measure the distances. The wrong distance will impact both tone and intonation.

This could be adding to the problem, but it's probably not the only thing you need to do.

Hope that helps.
Play On!
//Greger
 

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